“One thing about Sam is that you always know exactly where you stand with him.”
Ever say that about someone? What did you mean by it?
Most of us would mean it as a compliment. We tend to appreciate the straight-shooter. We’re grateful for their Authenticity because, even when it hurts to hear the unvarnished truth, we believe they genuinely care about our success.
Now, think about how your team perceives you.
Would they say that you're a straight-shooter? Would they admire how you confront difficult conversations head-on? Would they appreciate your candor because they can sense how much you care about them?
If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, many of us would admit that we struggle with Authenticity in those difficult moments that require confrontation.
I don’t want to rock the boat right now.
We can’t afford to offend (and lose) our biggest client.
I don’t want to run off our star employee.
But if we consistently “stand down” in the hopes of keeping the peace, we’ll be setting the stage for much worse conflict down the road. And we’ll inevitably lose our teams’ trust because they know we’re not shooting straight with them.
So, how can you be authentic in a way that earns your team’s trust and allows for open conversations that spur innovation and growth for the company?
The answer is found in the virtue of Peacemaking—the seventh of the “Great 8” leadership virtues from my book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership.”
(For an overview of all eight leadership virtues, see "The Great 8” Process.)
Personal Outcome of Peacemaking: Authenticity
What does Authenticity have to do with Peacemaking?
Let me provide some context to help answer this question.
In a previous article, “How Great Leaders Manage Conflict to Boost Innovation,” we talked about how Peacemaking is defined as leadership strength through vulnerability to confront and resolve conflict.
This idea is counterintuitive because we tend to think that Peacemaking means to avoid conflict. But the reality is that Peacemakers work to restore peace by having the strength and courage to confront issues with people head-on.
And that’s where Authenticity comes in.
If you have an issue with someone, or vice versa, you can’t hide or ignore it for long. Authenticity equips you to address the situation with maximum effectiveness with the hopes of restoring "peace" with that person—and with yourself.
As the bestselling author and Wharton Business School professor, Adam Grant, puts it, “Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.”
In other words, Authenticity means that if you believe there’s a problem, don’t suppress or ignore it. Bring it out into the open to “erase the gap” between what you think, do and say.
And it’s when your thoughts, words, and actions operate in perfect unison that the virtue of Peacemaking comes to life.
The Application: Authenticity Starts at the Top
How can you put Authenticity into practice in a way that promotes Peacemaking throughout your company?
When we’re consulting with leadership teams at Legacy Advisory Partners, we emphasize the principle that a culture of Authenticity always starts at the top.
That’s because your people are watching how you respond to uncomfortable situations, such as:
- Your biggest, most profitable client is acting abusively toward your employees, creating a hostile work environment.
- An employee is consistently underperforming and dragging down others on the team with them.
- A long-time vendor appears to be taking your business for granted with uncharacteristic lapses in quality and delivery times.
Do you immediately confront these issues as they arise, talk with the people involved, and arrive at a timely and effective resolution?
Or, do the problems persist because the voice of so-called Prudence takes control, telling you, "Let's give it some time and see if things work themselves out."
Yet, you know these problems won’t solve themselves.
And the longer you take to address those issues, the more your team will assume that you don’t care, don’t have their back or won’t “get real” with them.
They’ll also come to believe they can’t speak frankly with you because no matter what they tell you, nothing will come of it. They’ll think, “What’s the point?”
But if your people see you as a straight-shooter, and you make them feel comfortable to speak candidly with you, this dynamic of openness will transform your company. You’ll get problems out on the table where everyone can work together to solve them, so the team can focus on the tasks that drive the most value for the business.
Kicking Off Authentic Conversations
What is an effective process for engaging in authentic conversations?
Step 1: Take the initiative.
Pat, do you have a few minutes? Can we talk?
Don't try to have the conversation via text or email, where things can be easily misunderstood. Ideally, you'd like to talk face-to-face or, at least, on the phone. This way, each party can ask questions for clarification and give each other "live" feedback to make the discussion as productive as possible.
Step 2: Understand the other person’s perspective.
“When you first came on board, you seemed to be excited about your work. And it showed in your performance. But lately, you haven’t been yourself. How are things going for you? From your perspective, what do you think has changed?”
Resist any urge to either defend yourself or interject with snap solutions. Just listen.
The idea here is to invite the other person to be authentic with you—where they feel safe to speak candidly about whatever they’re thinking at that moment.
Step 3: Confirm your understanding.
You feel that … [reflect back your understanding of what that person has told you]. Is that accurate?”
Again, listen. And then ask questions to clarify anything you might have misunderstood until that person says, “Yes, that’s it. You got it.”
Step 4: Share your perspective with empathy.
“I hear where you’re coming from. And I can understand why you might feel that way. Here’s where I’m coming from and, hopefully, this can help shed some light on how we can work through this together.”
At this point, the other person feels respected and heard, causing them to open up to you and be willing to listen to what you have to say.
But keep in mind that authentic conversations won’t always lead to a happy ending. After all, you might decide during that meeting to let that person go in the best interest of both parties. But, at the very least, you respected them enough to hear them out and address the situation before it got worse.
And you will have restored peace with yourself and the others on the team by taking action to resolve the problem.
To recap, here are the key takeaways for how to build a culture of Authenticity.
#1. Defy conventional wisdom.
The conventional wisdom says that Peacemaking means to avoid conflict. But the reality is that Peacemakers work to restore peace by having the strength and courage to address conflict head-on.
#2. Clear the air.
If you believe there’s a problem, don’t suppress or ignore it. Bring it out in the open by initiating authentic conversations. Only then can you and the other person work together to resolve the conflict and restore peace to the relationship.
#3. Model authenticity.
Remember: your team is watching. If they see you as a straight-shooter, they’ll feel more comfortable and safe about speaking candidly with you. And that’s how Authenticity will spread, resulting in greater peace—and productivity—throughout your company.
The Bottom Line
Author Brené Brown defines Authenticity as “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
When we lead with Authenticity, we earn our team's trust. They can believe in us because they see us, day-in-and-day-out, making the hard choices to speak with honesty and be our true selves.
And it’s only through this spirit of openness and dialogue that true peace can thrive and, ultimately, transform your company’s performance.
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About the Author: J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.